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Before You Choose a Printer

How much do you want to spend?

Good inkjet printers can easily be found for under $100. A more expensive inkjet has better quality color, can handle more pages at one time, or can take heavier paper. If you're looking for high-quality photographs, then expect to start in the $200-$300 range. If you're looking for something that will also offer scanning, copying, or faxing, then you should also be looking at about $300. And if you need the speed and durability of a laser printer, expect to begin at $250 or so.

What kind of printer should I buy?

If you just need to print out documents such as letters, copies of Web pages from the Internet or simple spreadsheets, a low-end inkjet printer is fine. If you need to do presentations or high quality photographs, you want a photo printer. If you print over 100 pages on a daily basis and don't need color, you may want to look at laser printers. And, of course, if you need a combination of scanner, printer, copier, and fax, a multifunction printer is best.

How do printers connect to my PC?

Older printers connect through what is called a parallel cable. All PCs have at least one -- and usually only one -- parallel port, and there are few, if any, other devices that need that port. More modern printers tend to use a USB connection, which is faster. If you are buying a printer for an older computer without a USB port, make sure that the printer has a parallel connection.

Where should I buy a printer?

First, check out some of the large comparison review sites, such as CNET or PC Magazine or PC World, to get an idea of what's out there. You can buy them online, either directly from some of the vendors (such as Dell), or at online vendors such as Amazon.com or Buy.com. You can also go to a store such as Staples or Best Buy for a hands-on view. If you can get a salesperson to print out a test page for you, all the better.

Can a printer be used on a network?

Absolutely -- but you have to get a networkable printer. Many office-level printers come with an optional NIC (Network Interface C?) that allows you to put the printer on a network and accessible to several employees. (NOTE: If you've got a home network, you don't need a NIC -- you can usually access a printer if it's connected to a networked PC or Mac.)

Should I get a scanner?

With a scanner, you can copy printed material into your PC. You can copy old photos and other images to your computer, clean them up, put them on the Web, or in online photo albums. You can archive old documents onto CDs for storage. You can scan and print out films. However, if you just want to scan the occasional document or make a few copies, you may want to get a multifunction device, which will take up less desk space than having both a scanner and a printer.

Should I replace my old printer?

If you are still just printing occasional documents and family photos, and your current inkjet is doing a fine job, there's no reason to replace it. If, however, you are producing a great deal of family photos, and you want top quality photographs to pass around, a good photo printer will do a better job than your old inkjet. If you're starting a home business, a multifunction will probably suit your needs better as well.

Why are printers so cheap these days?

A lot of the money that vendors make from printers are from selling ink and toner cartridges -- what are called in the trade "consumables." Because printer users must continually purchase more cartridges when the old ones run out, they can pay more than the original cost of the printer within a year or so.

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